I remember the moment I realized something was wrong with my pregnancy very clearly. Years ago when I was pregnant with my first, I kept repeating to myself that everything was normal. Sure, I had been a little itchy, well a lot itchy, okay maybe unbearably itchy. At 35 weeks though, a lot of weird stuff had happened to me during pregnancy. I figured this had to be another crazy pregnancy thing. Anybody who I mentioned it to seemed unconcerned, I heard "It's totally normal to be itchy, your skin is getting stretched ton!" or "It's probably PUPPS". None of those responses made sense to me. I wasn't really itchy on my stomach. It was mostly my palms and feet-- and well everywhere, especially when I tried to sleep. I decided to quell my fears with a quick Google search. However, instead I discovered something else, the three words that have changed each of my pregnancies since, Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy
I finally stopped trying to convince myself that everything was normal. Something was wrong. Everything started to make sense, the weird pain below my ribs on the right side, the unbearable itch. I called my midwife and explained my symptoms. Without hesitation she sent me to get blood tests and told me she was fairly certain I had it. She explained that my liver couldn't handle the high level of hormones my body was producing. The normal flow of bile has slowed and built up in my blood. The bile salts exit through the skin which causes the insane itching. Worst of all, the baby is at risk and I could have a stillborn.
I remember sitting in the waiting room at our tiny local hospital, scared out of my mind. I had been trying to hold back tears all morning. The staff had no idea what tests they were suppose to run, they had never even heard of ICP. We waited over an hour while they relaid info from my midwife, trying to figure out just what to do with me. Holding my husbands hand it became very real that we might lose this baby. Even in the best case scenario they would have to induce me at 36 weeks. I wasn't ready to have the baby in a week!
I just kept repeating in my head "how could I have this?" HOW, is it that I have this crazy weird disorder. I was perfectly healthy in every way before pregnancy. I wondered why the Lord would allow me to struggle like this. I knew the answer of course, but it still seemed unfair to me. Friends all around me were having babies, they had normal pregnancies and normal deliveries-- and I had a constant unbearable itch and my liver was not working right.
When the tests were all done I drove to the city to see my midwife. She told me it would be 2 weeks at least until they got the results. The more we talked though, the more convinced she was that I did have it. She wanted to work through the diagnosis and monitor my body. She didn't believe it was serious enough to merit an early delivery, even though it is standard at most hospitals. I went in twice a week for non-stress tests and ultra-sounds. I constantly kept tabs on babies movement at home. When my tests results came back it was obvious I did have ICP. My levels were low enough that she felt confident in allowing me go to my due date.
Friends and family were praying for me and trying to understand. It grew so tiring, trying to explain what was wrong with me. Not one person I knew had ever heard of it. Even after I was diagnosed, well meaning "experienced" moms would tell me itchy is normal. Obviously I had just developed an allergy, "did you change your detergent??" Truly, sometimes itchy is normal, but for me it wasn't.
I was so worried during those weeks, but truly the Lord was merciful. A lot of mom's have to fight to receive a proper diagnoses. Many O.B's have never had a patient with ICP, and don't recognize the symptoms. My midwife never doubted me for a moment and walked through everything with me. In so many ways the Lord kept encouraging me. I discovered that a shower before bed reduced the itch enough for me to sleep. Strangely, the greatest relief was just laughing with my husband about the absurdity of it all.
It wasn't until I gave birth to my son, at 40 weeks + 4 days that the itching stopped. He was healthy and perfect. I finally felt free of the constant worry... That is until a year later when I became pregnant again with our second child. I'll continue the story in my next post!! Read part 2 here.